Dearing Review of Qualifications for 16–19-Year-Olds

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The government brief for this Review was that Sir Ron Dearing and his team should advise on how the existing system of post‐16 qualifications might be revised in order to encourage greater parity of esteem between General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A level) and parallel vocational and pre‐vocational routes. The brief included a government admonishment that A levels should not be discarded or undermined. The Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, writing to Dearing on 10 April 1995, instructed him that ‘Our key priorities remain to ensure that the rigour and standards of GCE A levels are maintained.’ This proviso made any radical overhaul, such as the introduction of a baccalaureate system, out of the question. The Committee was also tasked with suggesting ways to build on development in National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs); to increase participation and achievement; to prepare young people better for work and for higher education; and to ensure value for money. Dearing himself described the purpose of the Review as being one of breaking down barriers between academic and vocational courses and thereby promoting parity of esteem between the two.

Describing the scale of the task, Dearing pointed out on page 1 of the Review's published report that, ‘In spite of action taken by the government to bring clarity into the structure of vocational qualifications, the world of education and training between the ages of 16 and 19 remains intelligible only to specialists.’ The proposals which emerged from the Review included the following: a common framework across NVQ, GNVQ, General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), and A level, comprising four levels: entry, foundation, intermediate, and advanced; the renaming of Advanced GNVQs as ‘Applied A levels’; a National Advanced Certificate which would comprise two A levels, or an Advanced GNVQ, or a level 3 NVQ; a National Advanced Diploma, comprising the same qualifications as the Certificate, but awarded to pupils who have also covered four general areas of study, such as science, languages, arts, and ‘community’ studies, such as business or psychology; able pupils to be offered units of degree courses while still at school; key skills to be offered across the framework; awarding bodies to make joint arrangements for awards of GCSE, A level, and GNVQ; a marrying of the roles of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ).It is clear that many of these proposals were aimed at encouraging a broadening of the curriculum and parity between the different routes through the post‐16 education system. Many of the Review's recommendations, including the new Diploma and Certificate, and the renaming of GNVQs, were not implemented. The reorganization of the awarding bodies and the merger of the NCVQ and SCAA did go ahead, however, as did the introduction of key skills across the curriculum. Critics of the report from the academic community argued that Dearing's proposals did not go far enough, while the press criticized the same proposals for their possibly detrimental effect on the status of A levels, claiming that they were too radical.


Subjects: Education.

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